Laura Nyro Inducted into Songwriters Hall of Fame. Finally.

 

The great singer-songwriter Laura Nyro, famed for such songs as “Wedding Bell Blues,”"Stoned Soul Picnic,”"Eli’s Comin’,”"And When I Die,” “Stoney End” and “Save the Country,” was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame last night in New York City.

Nyro was an extraordinary singer in her own right, but gained even more attention for the songs she wrote, which were covered by such artists as The Fifth Dimension, Barbra Streisand, Three Dog Night and Blood Sweat & Tears. At one point in 1969–the height of her fame as both a cult artist and a songwriter–three of her compositions, all sung by others, were in Billboard magazine’s Top 10 during the same week.

I was in college at that time, and everyone knew who Nyro was–she and Joni Mitchell were equally revered, especially among young women who were swept away by the artists’ confessional lyrics and passionate performance. But ask a college student these days if they’ve heard of Nyro and they draw a blank–Mitchell’s fame only grew over the years, while Nyro–a more reclusive type–retreated into a smaller corner of the music world. She died in 1997 of ovarian cancer at age 49.

Since her passing, a number of her albums have been reissued, revues have been created around her music and she continues to be recognized by musicians for her tremendous historical influence on the singer-songwriter movement of the late 1960s. She especially inspired women to voice themselves in performance, rather than just remain the creation of male producers. Even Mitchell, who tends to credit few short of Bach with having any impact on her genius, has name-checked Nyro as someone of importance to her musical development.

And finally, after years of being pretty much ignored by the mainstream arbiters of pop music–Rolling Stone never puts her brilliant, groundbreaking albums Eli and the Thirteenth Confession or New York Tendaberry on its Top Whatever lists–the music world is starting to recognize and honor her. She was a finalist for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this past year, and now she’s a Hall of Fame songwriter–a big deal for a woman, considering these numbers: Only 18 of the 179 songwriters in the Hall from the rock era (since 1953) are women, just five of the 230 songwriters from the Tin Pan Alley era (1878-1952), and two of the 18 songwriters from 1600-1879. Really? So few great women songwriters among all those great men? Why am I suspicious that there’s, uh, some gender-based myopia here?

Feminists have long loved Nyro, especially when she made it very clear in the early 1980s that she was one of the tribe–even describing herself in one song as being of a “radical feminist bent.” She particularly subscribed to ecofeminism, writing paeans to trees and nature and animal rights, and she also gave shout-outs to goddesses such as Sophia, Hecate and the Triple Goddess. 

If you want to know more about Nyro–shameless plug alert!–read my biography of her. And listen to her music. Here’s a start:

Video of Laura Nyro from one of her rare television appearances, on the Kraft Music Hall in 1969. Photo of Nyro at top by Stephen Paley, used by permission of the photographer.

Comments

  1. In 1997, Alanna Nash credited “Emmie” as Pop’s first lesbian love song.
    Laura Nyro was unique in romancing women by her open expressions of same sex attraction in song. “Emmie” ’68, “Timer” ’68, Désiree ’71 are among her early offerings. She lived her life on the down low, being bisexual, while living and embracing the radical, feminist, lesbian subculture.

    As to the Tin Pan Alley influence, in “Timer” you can hear the “cakewalk” in the opening and closing music. She opens “Timer” with a March cadence which gives way to a strut which then transitions to a shuffle. This is the cakewalk, a signature of Tin Pan Alley. I have seen it often referenced by musical experts, that Laura was most deft at these musical changes.

    Roadnotes ’84, Walk the Dog & Light the Light ‘93, Sweet Dream Fade ’94, and Angel In the Dark ’94 are all songs extolling the love of a woman for another woman. It is a love that is not only an intimate friendship, but “the love that dare not speak its name.”
    Her courage in witnessing her life’s confessions makes her ideal.

  2. It’s so good to see Laura Nyro get the recognition she deserves. For readers ho want to learn more about Nyro’s life and work, I highly recommend Michele’s book!

  3. I can think of no one who deserves this induction more than Laura Nyro. From the very beginning of her amazing career, she showed us the listeners and showed other writers and composers what could be done with songs and poetry. She created unique verse and compositions with her brilliance. Too little has been done to honor her truely brilliant achievements and works.

  4. I just now saw this post. It is lovely to see her face again, and spookily enough, I was just telling a young woman about her a couple of days ago. She had never heard of her, now maybe more people will know who she was.

  5. It’s about time! Ms. Nyro is an original and will always be a substantial influence on any musician that grew up with or hears her music in the future. She is an important piece of the ongoing tapestry of American music we can be proud of. And what a great video!
    Michele Isam

  6. Toni Schecter says:

    A while back I had read that she had been passed over for being inducted into the Rock n' Roll Hall of Fame.
    The person writing the article had never heard of her (surprise, surprise). That was a darn shame. I mean, if ABBA can get inducted, what is this world coming to? Seriously though, Laura finally gets some recognition (as should Carole King) that she deserves. I grew up listening to Laura and still do to this day. No one has yet to come along to move me in the same way as she does. I miss you Laura. and thank you for all the great years.

  7. Ian Rogers says:

    Recognition of this sort is way, way overdue for Laura Nyro. I think that what Laura did in the space of, say, four years many artists do not achieve in a lifetime. To me,similar to the lightning impact of Hendrix. Many timeless songs from such a unique individual. I have wished so much for her name not to be followed by the look of blankness whenever she is mentioned to others. This is a positive start, I hope.

  8. hallelujah my sweet love!!! you live on!!

  9. I'm pretty sceptical of these establishment backslapping accolades like RRHOF etc, but recognition of Laura's work is deserved and overdue – and from that perspective, this is very welcome news. She is the best kept secret in the whole wide world.

  10. arpsynthesizer says:

    Laura Nyro was the sexiest woman of all time! And a true role model for women. Beautiful on the inside & out.
    Can we have more Laura Nyros,instead of Kardashians?
    http://last.fm/user/felinefan

  11. peta bulmer says:

    only recently have I started getting into Laura’s music. Jane Siberry’s medley on City got it started, and then I found out that a bit of a song I heard on the Simpsons (Wedding Bell Blues – I presumed it was called will you marry me Bill!)was her! You know how you hear music and fall in love with it?
    Well, I have fallen in love!

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